Las Fallas (pronounced Las Fi-yuhs, thank you Tash) is basically what would happen if a country accepted that people want to riot occasionally and just organise it for a week at the end of winter. It’s the best carnival you ever went to if it were in a war zone, ending spectacularly with everything that can be burnt on fire and anything that isn’t flammable being covered in explosives just in case. I’m still not sure if it’s insanely awesome or just awesomely insane. I am sure that it was amazing.
Every neighbourhood in Valencia makes their own falla, usually standing about twelve feet tall, and apparently representing something the locals consider worthy of satire. Next to them are the children’s fallas, which are about six foot, and are either a lesson in morality (brush your teeth, don’t pollute, don’t talk to strangers, etc.) or just scenes from kids shows or games.
In one of the markets, there was a display showing how the fallas were created out of a wooden frame and some paper mâché.
Of course, for most of the attendees, less attention was paid to the creation of the fallas than to their eventual destruction on the twentieth. Depending on who you ask, this ritual burning is either the logical conclusion of a competition between the city’s carpenters as they burned their off cuts or a symbolic end to winter and beginning of spring intended to aid fertility. Whatever the origins, the current motivation seems to be that fire is awesome.
Of course, there were also other events over the course of the festival. Every day at two, there was a fireworks show in the main square designed to create smoke and noise rather than visual beauty which the whole city gathered together for.
There were also any number of parades and productions by traditionally dressed Valencians. I was informed that the dress and hair piece, if purchased second hand and as low quality as possible, cost around seven thousand euro. Brand new and high end could cost up to twenty thousand.
Over the course of the festival, several thousand of these men and women paraded through the streets of Valencia – competing for best in neighbourhood and city, participating in dances, and bringing flowers to the Plaza de la Virgen to create her a cloak.
There was also a Fire Parade up and down the main streets before the grand burning, in which capering demons and dragons rolled past, emitting gouts of flame and accompanied by drum bands.
The weeks events were all well lubricated, with constant sales of booze and deep fried foods, but still remained startlingly orderly, at least once you accepted that cracker throwing was just a constant rather than a personal attack.
It was all very cool. Still, I’m glad to be in Granada for a slightly more chilled out few days, since I don’t think I had a full night’s sleep all week. There was just always something going on, and the position of my hostel made sleeping fairly futile.